The US Army’s esports team is unbanning Twitch users it blocked from its streams for asking about American war crimes, and says it will be returning to Twitch soon.
In a statement sent to The Verge, a spokesperson for the army said the esports team would be “reinstating access for accounts previously banned for harassing and degrading behavior” and that it was “reviewing and clarifying its policies and procedures for the stream.” The esports outfit, which paused streaming last month after accusations it was violating the first amendment by banning users, said it would “resume streaming on Twitch in the near future, but a specific date has not been set at this time.”
Military Twitch streams are government forums and have to respect the first amendment, say lawyers
The US military’s use of esports as a recruitment tool has come under scrutiny in recent months. Reports have highlighted how the US Army’s esports channel has used misleading prize giveaways to push users to recruitment pages, and how viewers have been banned for asking army streamers about war crimes committed by the US military.
This last point has led to complaints by free speech advocates, who argue that a video game stream run by the US military is the same as any other public forum overseen by the government, and thus has to uphold first amendment principles. As one attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, Katie Fallow, said in a statement: “The Army and Navy can’t constitutionally delete comments or ban people from these Twitch channels simply for asking questions about issues they would rather not address.”
Last month, the Knight First Amendment Institute wrote to both the Army and Navy’s esports teams asking them to unban users and publish clear policies for their accounts. The institute has previously sued President Donald Trump for blocking critics on Twitter under the same grounds. It won its case and the president was forced to unblock dozens of users.
“The team is reviewing and clarifying its policies and procedures for the stream and will provide all who have been banned the opportunity to participate in the space as long as they follow the team’s guidelines,” said the US Army in a statement. “Personal attacks, crude language, pornographic material, harassment and bullying will not be tolerated on the stream, and action will be taken if individuals choose to engage in this behavior.”